Why Paul J. Griffiths Is Wrong About Homosexual Acts

Here is Catholic theologian Paul J. Griffiths, a professor at Duke University, reviewing gay author Richard Rodriguez’s Darling: A Spiritual Autobiography in the conservative First Things, of all places, and making the case for the goodness of same-sex love along the way: “I don’t agree with every position taken in Darling, or with every argument offered…On homosexuality and homosexual acts…I think Rodriguez much closer to being right than not. Insofar as such acts are motivated by and evoke love, they are good and to be loved; insofar as they do not, not. In this, they are no different from heterosexual acts.

There are other interesting differences between the two kinds of act. But if you think, as Rodriguez seems to, and I do, and all Catholics should, that we live in a devastated world in which no sexual acts are undamaged, free from the taint of sin and death and the concomitant need for lament, then the fact that homosexual acts have their own characteristic disorder is no ground for blindness to the goods they enshrine.  Gay men should, of course, darling one another; those of us whose darlings are of the opposite sex should be glad that they do, and glad of instruction in love by the ways in which they do. Love is hard enough to come by in a devastated world without encouraging blindness to its presence.”

lesbianGriffiths’ argument for the moral legitimacy of homosexual acts rides on love. It even brings back memories for me of the love-based “situation” ethics of old: the right act is the one that is the loving act in a particular situation. But what is love? How do we define it? What is its content? Griffiths assumes what needs to be proved: that homosexual acts can indeed be acts of love. they may be “motivated by” love, but, I argue, they are not capable of expressing authentic sexual love, i.e., conjugal love – the only kind of sexual love that is morally good and accepted by the Catholic Church.

I believe that we can apply what Vatican Council II’s Gaudium et spes, no. 51 teaches about the morality of the methods of birth control to this discussion of homosexual and heterosexual sexual love. When discussing “the moral aspects” of various methods, the Council Fathers argue that these do “not depend solely on sincere intentions or on an evaluation of motives, but must be determined by objective standards. These, based on the nature of the human person and his acts, preserve the full sense of mutual self-giving and human procreation in the context of true love.” [My emphases] So, it’s not enough to say, as Griffiths does, that “the acts are good and to be loved” if they “are motivated by and evoke love.” This notion of love is much too subjective (a “blank check” so to speak), however sincere the intentions or good the motives may be.  It is incapable of being “true love” – that is, conjugal love – because it is unable to realize the inherent goods of conjugal love: “mutual self-giving” and “procreation.” Only a love that is directed toward those goods is objective and “based on the nature of the human person and his acts.” Only this love can take the form of sexual expression and be morally good in doing so. Griffiths’ understanding of love, however, is more in line with the false ideology of the LGBT advocates who say, “Love is love.” Uh, but it’s not.

Also, how can Griffiths simply say that there are “interesting” differences between homosexual acts and heterosexual acts? Simply interesting?  Interesting is a word I would use to describe the differences between the beaks of different kinds of birds, but not the sexual acts of homosexual and heterosexual couples. But it makes sense for him to do so, if you grant his notion of love as some kind of amorphous (or aesthetic?) reality that doesn’t seem to have any defining and definite characteristics. Again, to Griffiths, love is love.

Finally, Griffiths’ argument ends, or rather dissolves, in a kind of mysticism (from the Greek, “to conceal”) that is really more mist than mystical, when he speaks of how all of our sexual acts – homosexual and heterosexual – in this veil of tears are wounded in some fashion and thus in need of redemption. So true! Given this state of affairs, Griffiths continues, the “fact that homosexual acts have their own characteristic disorder is no ground for blindness to the goods they enshrine.” But that’s a non sequitur: While it is true that both kinds of sexual acts are disordered, it doesn’t follow that homosexual acts can ever be morally good, as heterosexual acts can (always) be if done with openness to the goods of marriage.

This view denies, as we pointed out, the obvious differences in kind, not simply in degree between same-sex love and heterosexual love. By nature, homosexual acts do not and cannot realize the goods of mutual self-donation and procreation (i.e., the goods of marriage). Nor can they realize the conjugal good itself and what Blessed Pope John Paul II termed the “spousal” or “nuptial” meaning of the body (There is no sexual complementarity to speak of with gay and lesbian unions). Hence, they are radically different kinds of acts, and not, as Griffiths claims, acts whose real differences don’t get in the way of recognizing the “presence” of homosexual love and appreciating its “instruction in love,” and whose morality depends on whether or not these acts are characterized by “love.” Yes, as granted, both kinds of love are damaged, as all goods and institutions are after the Fall. But only same-sex love is damaged in such a way that it can never be morally good to express it in sexual acts.

I agree with Griffiths that “love is hard enough to come by in a devastated world.” But is it truly love that we are speaking of?  If it is, what kind of love is it?  We have to settle those questions first.  If this love is a chaste celibate love between two men or two women, then I have no doubt that it can be fulfilling in some real sense.  But if it is a love that involves sexual activity, then that “love” cannot be authentic and is doomed ultimately to failure and sadness.  This admittedly will be a hard pill to swallow for those who identify their sexual orientation as gay or lesbian. But coming to terms with it is an aspect of what their true good consists of. And with all my heart, I really want that good for them, as does the Catholic Church.  Nevertheless, all men and women, whether “gay” or “straight,” are called to chastity. It’s just that this virtue takes different forms depending on one’s personal vocation and “state of life.”

I hope and pray that as a Catholic theologian, Paul Griffiths will come to see things differently and recognize both the moral as well as the anthropological differences between same-sex love and opposite-sex love. Only the latter kind of love can be sexually expressed, because only it can be conjugal.

Mark S. Latkovic, S.T.D. is a Professor of Moral Theology at Sacred Heart Major Seminary (Detroit, MI), where he has taught for over 23 years. He is co-editor of St. Thomas Aquinas and the Natural Law Tradition: Contemporary Perspectives (The Catholic University of America Press, 2004), as well as author of What’s a Person to Do? Everyday Decisions that Matter (Our Sunday Visitor, 2013) and numerous articles in scholarly and popular journals.
Articles by Mark:

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  • Mrshopey

    And if love, properly understood, is ordered toward the good of the other, then it wouldn’t satisfy for those act as they will always be disordered. To me, doing that would be an act of hate.

    • Mark Latkovic

      Mrshopey, that’s right, because “the good of the other” must always include what’s consistent with right reason and sound moral principles.

      • Mrshopey

        Yes. And in Catholic circles, when you ask for their definition of love, or how they are using it, they mean a friendship love (or some), which is a good, but the acts are not in that situation. I have had a hard time taking them back to the very root of love being ordered to the good of the person. Ignoring that key essential part is necessary to twist “love” in their acts, for them.

        • Mrshopey

          Also, I would hope a theologian could be able to recognize this as you are not addressing just a lay person. But, I am not going to be surprised if you either, don’t get an answer or more smoke, which is sad.

          • Mark Latkovic

            Mrshopey, sadly, I usually get hate mail!

          • Mrshopey

            I bet! I am praying for you! If what you receive is anything like some of the things hurled, in general, in comment sections, Lord have mercy.

          • Mark Latkovic

            Many thanks!

  • Jack

    St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross advised “Do not accept any thing as love which lacks truth.”

    • Mark Latkovic

      Jack, good quote. This is something Blessed (soon-to-be St.) JPII used to stress: the connection between truth & love (cf. “Veritatis splendor,” Ch. 2).

  • bill b

    The author does something very culturally Catholic….he argues from a Council rather than cites God’s word thru Paul ( 4&5th century Catholics cited Scripture til the cows came home).
    Scripture is a hell of lot more trenchant on this topic but we just keep on avoiding Romans 1:26-27 because Paul ?? bothers us as authority because his Romans 13:4 ( absent in Evangelium Vitae) makes our death penalty position seem effeminate? Anyway here is Romans 1:26-27 which you will see avoided repeatedly in Catholic discussions on gays because partly it depicts the severe side of God which again is not in vogue…”handed them over”:
    Rom.1:26-27 ” Therefore, God handed them over to degrading passions. Their females exchanged natural relations for unnatural, and the males likewise gave up natural relations with females and burned with lust for one another. Males did shameful things with males and thus received in their own persons the due penalty for their perversity.”
    Scripture is more caustic than modern Catholicism on gays, wifely obedience, and the death penalty. But we are more genteel…and thus we are all over the map when the stats are done on beliefs.

  • Mark Latkovic

    To Bill B, Thanks for your comment. I’m very glad to read that you support the traditional ethic on this issue! … But one can only do so much in a short piece! I have in many other writings of mine (some, in fact, on the “Truth and Charity Forum”), cited those same Scripture passages and cited them without fear (You suppose, w/out any basis, that I/we Catholics do so to be “genteel”)…As well, there is nothing “culturally Catholic” about citing an ecumenical Council (Heck, if only we could get Catholics to cite a Council, that would be progress!) I often try to do both — although I usually avoid doing either when my audience is a secular one. But even then, I am not hesitant about citing the scriptures (or even Church teaching). God bless, MSL

  • cpsho

    Even for a catholic like paul Grifiths to label himself, gay, is so wrong.

  • stemmer

    The shame and travesty of it all is that the adverse medical consequences of such acts are figuratively swept under the rug — leading, of course, to the popular bromide “since the _only_ objections to homosexuality [or same-sex “marriage” or the like] are those in the Bible …”

    As if they were.

  • Fr. Timothy Sauppé, S.T.L.

    I checked online with Duke U., and looked at his C.V., and nowhere did I find that he is an accredited Catholic theologian from the Vatican/Pope with a S.T.L. or a S.T.D.. Unless it is missing from his C.V. I would not call him one, even though he may hold a Chair in that Department.

  • Fr. Timothy Sauppé, S.T.L.

    Unless, unless,….yes, he could be a theologian who also happens be a Catholic Christian then he could called a …., well on second thought, no, not even then.

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